Say hello to Djed-Hapi

I apologize in advance for those of you who might be waiting for more updates on the Middle Kingdom boat model I started working on a while ago. That object was put aside temporarily to make room for all the pieces that recently came into the Artifact Lab when we deinstalled our Mummy Room and Secrets and Science galleries. While the cases in those galleries were reinforced to better withstand vibrations from the hospital construction next door, and new mounts designed and made for many of the objects, we were working hard to assess the condition of all the pieces, and treat them as necessary before the galleries reopened. This was a pretty short turn around, and several of us in the Conservation Department here chipped in to help make sure every object was looked at properly before they went back on display.

While most of the objects are in good condition, and only needed a little surface cleaning to remove accumulated dust, some needed much more complicated and detailed treatments. I began by looking at our mummy Djed-Hapi, who is the first mummy you see when you enter the Secrets and Science gallery.

Djed-Hapi, with his coffin lid and base (E3413A-C), in the Egyptian Mummies: Secrets and Science gallery.

Djed-Hapi, with his coffin lid and base (E3413A-C), in The Egyptian Mummy: Secrets and Science gallery.

As you can see, In the original case design Djed-Hapi rests in his coffin base, while the lid is suspended above on a metal shelf. Unfortunately, the coffin lid will not be returning to the case, as the shelf it used to rest on cannot withstand the level of vibrations which may occur. Don’t worry though! It will remain in the Artifact Lab and be conserved as part of a future treatment project.

As for Djed-Hapi himself, we know that he dates to the Ptolemaic period (305-30 CE). We know his name, and in fact the names of several of his family members, because of the hieroglyphs written on his coffin lid. Here is an archival image of Djed-Hapi’s coffin lid and base, and you can see all the text written on the lid:

Scan of an archival negative showing E3413B-C.

Scan of an archival negative showing E3413B-C.

He was x-rayed in 1980, and from these images we can tell that he was a man who lived into his 50s before he died. While these old x-ray images were serviceable, we decided to re-x-ray him in our digital x-ray suite here at the museum, because we felt we could get a better level of detail with the digital system.

Djed-Hapi getting his x-rays taken in 2016 (left) and 1980 (right).

Study of these x-rays revealed some very interesting facts about Djed-Hapi’s mummification. His head is completely detached from his body, cleanly separated between two of the vertebrae in his neck.

Detail of the 1980 x-radiograph of Djed-Hapi's head. The red arrow shows where his spinal column stops.

Detail of the 1980 x-radiograph of Djed-Hapi’s head. The red arrow shows where his spinal column stops.

This was not his cause of death, but happened during mummification, and seems intentional. Starting in the Ptolemaic Period, the mummification process shifted from removing the deceased’s brain through the nose, to removing it through the base of the skull. The x-rays also show that Djed-Hapi’s nasal cavity seems to be intact, so this change in the mummification process may be the reason Djed-Hapi’s head was removed, then replaced and carefully wrapped with the rest of the body. The decapitation is not visible from the exterior, and in fact his head and neck area are quite stable.

The x-rays also reveal a bit about the condition of Djed-Hapi’s body underneath the wrappings. His skeleton is well-articulated (except for his head of course), including all his finger and toe bones, and you can even see the soft tissue preserved, which implies the body is in good condition. However, a closer look at his ankles shows that there is a rather large gap between the distal ends of his tibiae (shin bones) and his tarsals (ankle bones). While there is no evidence of damage to the exterior of the linens, we can tell whenever we have to move the mummy that the ankle area has some movement. This is an issue which could lead to further damage in the future, so careful handling is required.

2016 x-ray of Djed-Hapi, showing well-preserved soft tissue. The red rectangle highlights the gap between the bones in his ankles.

Next up, I’ll discuss the conservation treatment of Djed-Hapi’s mummy, and his coffin base.

Alexis North is the Project Conservator for the Egyptian Storage Move Project, Penn Museum.

References:

Fleming, S. (1980). The Egyptian mummy: Secrets and science. University of Pennsylvania.

Out with the old, in with the…old

Since we opened in September 2012, visitors to the Artifact Lab have become accustomed to this view:

View into the Artifact Lab, with boards from Ahanakht's coffin pointed out with red arrows

View into the Artifact Lab, with boards from Ahanakht’s coffin pointed out with red arrows

The shelves lining the back wall of the lab have been mostly occupied with large cedar boards from the Middle Kingdom outer coffin of Ahanakht. We’ve written about this coffin before here, here, and here, and we’ve spent a lot of time in the lab examining, conserving, and studying the boards, alongside the Curator-in-charge of the Egyptian Section Dr. David Silverman and his graduate student Leah Humphrey.

Conservator Alexis North and Dr. Silverman reviewing details captured through reflectance transformation imaging (RTI)

Conservator Alexis North and Dr. Silverman reviewing details of the boards captured through reflectance transformation imaging (RTI)

Last week, the scenery in here changed quite a bit, as the boards were carefully packed:

Kevin Cahail secures one of the coffin boards to its custom-made palette in preparation for moving off-site

Curatorial Assistant Dr. Kevin Cahail secures one of the coffin boards to its custom-made palette in preparation for moving off-site

Large boards from Ahanakht's coffin packed and ready to be moved off-site

Large boards from Ahanakht’s coffin packed and ready to be moved off-site

Since the boards have been documented and conserved, they are moving off-site temporarily to make room for “new” things to come into the lab. These “new” pieces are actually being deinstalled from our Secrets and Science and Mummy Galleries, in order to retrofit those galleries to ensure that they will be secure during the construction project happening next door at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP).

Views into the Secrets and Science gallery, before deinstallation began

Views into the Secrets and Science gallery, before deinstallation began

Views into the Mummy Gallery, before deinstallation

Views into the Mummy Gallery, before deinstallation

Some of these objects and mummies will go back on display shortly, but need to be examined and conserved first, so they will be worked on in the Artifact Lab in the next few weeks to allow for reinstallation.

Details about the construction project at HUP and how it is affecting our museum have been described in some recent news articles, which you can find by following links that I’ve included at the end of this post.

For a couple days, the shelves in the lab were empty:

Conservator Alexis North working in the Artifact Lab with emptied shelves in the background

Conservator Alexis North working in the Artifact Lab with emptied shelves in the background

but we didn’t waste any time filling them back up again:

Shelves in the Artifact Lab filling up with new things

Shelves in the Artifact Lab filling up with new things

Note, this photo above was taken after day 1 of deinstallation; there will be more coming into the lab in the upcoming days.

We’ll post more about some of these “new” artifacts and mummies as we work on them in the next few weeks.

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